For as long as I can remember, film has provided something necessary in my life-in all our lives, really. We may not even be conscious of this need. It can be buried deep down away from the light, but it is there, waiting patiently for time to exert its own special kind of persuasion. We have a need to experience what we will never experience. We need to know what’s it like to make a suicide run through the trenches of an orbiting space station. We need to feel the sweat pour down our necks as a genetically engineered T. rex chases after us. These are things that spike adrenaline and make lasting memories. And the folks behind the Chattanooga Film Festival know this all too well.
Recently, the festival’s 2017 schedule of films and events was released, and those pesky butterflies started careening around in my gut, just like they did around this time last year. But that feeling is less about the particular movies being screened and more about the sense of freedom that these movies provide, the doorways that open onto unknown landscapes and reveal glimmers of the greatness and sorrow that exist within humanity. And if this seems a bit like hyperbole, go watch “The Third Man” or “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “Blue Velvet” and get back with me.
For the past few years, our cinema fix for all things weird and wonderful has been provided by the fine folks behind the Chattanooga Film Festival. Every spring, they bring a welcome slate of bizarre films, interesting lecturers and events that strain credulity, in the best possible sense. And as often as it seems that I am alone in my obsession with the strange underbelly of film, when the festival comes roaring into town, I’m always reminded that there are those with whom I share a bonded kinship, a communal affection and respect for the art of cinema.
The Chattanooga Film Festival, led by Chris Dortch, understands that, over the decades, film has become an intrinsic part of our society, creating its own rippling impressions on the state of modern pop culture. According to their website, the CFF’s ultimate goal is “to remember, discover and cultivate cinema worthy of everyone’s love and respect.” And they truly mean everyone-there are films presented each year that may not appeal to everyone, but through these films, the festival strives to shine a light into all corners of film history, even those corners that haven’t seen light in quite some time. And so for yet another year, we’ll be able to see films in a theater experience that might not ordinarily have played in Chattanooga.
With film, we’re completely free to imagine anything at all and blend our lives with the memories and timelines of fictional characters. There’s a line from the phenomenal 2016 film “Arrival” that gets to the heart of how film can so easily entangle itself in our personal lives and most private memories: “Memory is a strange thing … We are so bound by time, by its order.” And yet, film allows us to step outside the limitations of our own memories. It gives us license to recall the past in any way that we choose-the future as well, for that matter. And it’s in this nonlinear recognition of our own existence where film is able to merge our hopes and dreams with the tangible world around us.
We’re thrust into the impossible and accept it without a second thought. That’s the power that movies hold over us. It’s a power that we willingly allow them to have. And for a few days each year, we’re given access to many forms of this kind of impossible art. Having had past experiences with canine revolutions, sexually charged animated tragedy and lost Studio Ghibli masterpieces, you get the feeling that anything can and will happen during the CFF. It possesses a spontaneity and unforced clarity that are so rarely evinced by many modern film festivals.
In the days leading up to the festival, a buildup of excitement has begun to roll around in my stomach. Joe Bob Briggs will be back in town, and Superbody will be peddling their effervescent poptimism on the Southern Belle. The Chattanooga Film Festival is more than just four days of movies. It’s a welcome respite for those who see cinema as an inherently important function of society. And for their complicity in my film-centric obsessions, I offer my thanks to all those who toil to make the Chattanooga Film Festival a reality.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.